BWW Review: Theatrics Overpower Storytelling in ECT's ROMEO AND JULIET
Elysium Conservatory Theatre has thrown everything but the kitchen sink into its latest production of Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET, the first in their brand new space in downtown San Pedro. Contemporary music, dance, mask work, shadow play, fight choreography, and audience participation, plus a variety of additional movement styles and theatrical elements all vie for attention in this heavily edited and rearranged version of the play, directed by Aaron Ganz (which still runs three hours in length).
None of those components are unwelcome but the result here feels more like you're watching a series of class exercises than a production with a clear vision. Even adding music and movement isn't unusual but Brian Moe's choreography isn't well-suited to the abilities of the actors and music director Patrick Newell inserts song sequences that interfere with the storytelling rather than enhance it.
Romeo (Gerard Alvarez) and Juliet's (Ria Gaudioso) balcony scene stops mid-text for a Narrator (Melissa Ortiz) - whose purpose in the show is already unclear - to sing Bette Midler's "The Rose" and it ends up a jarring interruption. Likewise, adding a dance for the smiling lovers at opposite ends of a long sheet to Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars," after they've already said a tearful goodbye, may be symbolic but it is also uncomfortably self-conscious.
The space is lovely but cavernous, with a high vaulted ceiling and a row of chairs for the audience that rings the playing area on three sides. The configuration does present some sound issues. Better diction, breath support, and grounding of the voice (not yelling) would prevent the actors' words from being swallowed up in the ethers, as would understanding the literary and rhetorical devices Shakespeare uses in his play.
He wrote much of ROMEO AND JULIET in blank verse yet the cast does not observe it. Nor is there a great deal of understanding when it comes to character study. We have a Benvolio (Brian Raetz) - whose name comes from the Latin word "benevolentia" meaning kindness or benevolence - writhing around like a lascivious cad and a Nurse (Charlotte Spangler) who takes on the attitude of a flippant teenager. Ganz's direction seems to ask the actors to find alternative choices for their characters but the random outcome is a hard sell given that the play offers clear information about who they are. Most successful is a gender-switch, that has Tybalt (Kate Slinger) played by a petite young woman with an almost Amazonian intensity, that sharply brings the fights to life.
Ganz also rearranges scenes in his adaptation but it gains little traction. In one example, Mercutio's (Neyssan Falahi) Queen Mab speech and dialogue with Romeo from Act I scene 4 is now delivered in the tomb where Juliet is laid, in Act V scene 3. Doing so changes the context of the scenes and weakens both. A dead Mercutio conjures like a madman over her spouting some strange gibberish, but for what purpose?
The production does have a lot of energy; it just needs to be focused rather than allowing it to spin off in so many directions at once...which brings me to something I've never had to write about before.
Respecting the audience.
During the party scene, actors wildly rush into the audience to pull as many people up to dance with them as possible. I know you want their participation but bear in mind that this production has not been represented as an immersive one and I have already watched actors not fully in control of their physicality run amok in earlier scenes.
If you grab a woman alone in the audience from behind and she struggles to pull away from you when you forcefully run your hands up and down her, and you do it a second time even more insistently, causing her to again pull away from you, you've crossed a line. In the real world, said audience member would have slapped you for violating her personal space uninvited. Then, when you continue to gyrate in her face still not taking the hint as she recoils away from you, yet again, you've shown how clueless you really are. Being an actor does not give you license to take advantage. That self-absorption is an actor's downfall. This is a conservatory production. Discuss boundaries with your director.
ROMEO AND JULIET
Through April 23, 2017. Fri. & Sat. at 8pm, Sun. at 7pm
Elysium Conservatory Theatre
729 S. Palos Verdes Street, San Pedro, CA 90731
Parking is available at two public parking facilities on 7th St., between the theatre and Pacific Ave. There is also street parking, free after 6pm
Tickets: (800) 838-3006 or www.fearlessartists.org